A drawing of different components of a scientific paper identified as blocks. The content of these blocks are extracted and reorganized. Paper snippets are represented as yellow blocks on a dark blue background with the text SciA11y and Semantic Scholar in the lower corners.
A drawing of different components of a scientific paper identified as blocks. The content of these blocks are extracted and reorganized. Paper snippets are represented as yellow blocks on a dark blue background with the text SciA11y and Semantic Scholar in the lower corners.

In the first post of this series, I described the current state of scientific PDF accessibility (or rather, inaccessibility). Now let’s dive deeper into some of the challenges faced by blind and low vision (BLV) readers in this domain, and introduce a system we created that attempts to address some of these challenges. We go into great detail about both of these points in our recently released preprint: “Improving the accessibility of scientific documents.”

Understanding user challenges

We interviewed several BLV researchers to understand their needs and challenges when reading papers. My high-level takeaways from these conversations were 1) any paper semantics that…


An illustration of a scientific paper on a dark blue background covered in other papers. A purple universal access logo, a stick figure with arms outstretched in a circle, is displayed on top of the paper. Text in the lower left corner says “SciA11y”; and text in the lower right corner shows the Semantic Scholar logo and name.
An illustration of a scientific paper on a dark blue background covered in other papers. A purple universal access logo, a stick figure with arms outstretched in a circle, is displayed on top of the paper. Text in the lower left corner says “SciA11y”; and text in the lower right corner shows the Semantic Scholar logo and name.

One early motivation for the creation of the internet was to improve scientists’ abilities to communicate and share findings. Findings come in many forms, but one of the most common formats for dissemination is the scientific paper. Much has changed for the internet and for scientific communication since the 60s, but the web still holds enormous potential for democratizing access to information. Relatively recent developments in guidelines for web accessibility (WCAG 2.0, WCAG 3.0 — in progress) and principles for inclusive design have laid the groundwork for equalizing access to web content across the ability and resource spectrum. …

lucy lu wang

bits and bytes, unorganized

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